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Flight & Anchor

By Nicole Kornher-Stace 

7 Sep, 2023

Military Speculative Fiction That Doesn't Suck

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The 2023 novella Flight & Anchor belongs to Nicole Kornher-Stace’s Firebreak constellation of novels, novellas, and stories1.

Retrieved as children from a corporate warzone, 06 and 22 were remade by their Stellaxis masters. The pair were the beneficiaries of advanced cyborg enhancements. Faster, tougher, and stronger than baseline humans, the two are proof that the Stellaxis supersoldier program produces valuable results.

Tweens are notorious for ingratitude. Having been transformed at great expense into supersoldiers, twelve-year-olds 06 and 22 use their gifts to escape the Stellaxis training/containment facility and flee into the nearby city.

Salvaged as children, the pair have no knowledge of civilian life and little idea how to survive outside the Stellaxis institution. It would be easy for either or both to prey on the hapless civilians for the supplies and money they need. They do not. 06 and 22 beg and steal to support themselves. A convenient cargo container provides them with shelter.

Back at Stellaxis, the Director conceals 06 and 22’s escape. There would be consequences if higher ups were to discover that the Director had lost such valuable assets. This buys the Director time, time that will be used to frantically explore ways of retrieving the errant supersoldiers.

Among the tools at the Director’s disposal is Stellaxis’ custom of electronically tagging corporate property. The physical location of the pair is easy enough to determine. The trick is manipulating the tweens into returning. More direct methods of capture risk failure or the destruction of the valuable supersoldiers.

Having failed to learn from experience, the means by which the Director elects to induce the tweens to choose to return to the Stellaxis fold is a nanobot cloud whose capabilities are matched only by its tendency to interpret orders creatively. Surely, nothing could go wrong relying on a nigh-omnipotent machine so unpredictable it was shelved!

Success or failure will come soon. 06 and 22 may be fast, durable, and ingenious, but outside the Stellaxis medical support network, they have very limited shelf lives….


Given the powerful technology on display and the unimpressive people running society, this novella may be set in a universe where the answer to the Fermi Paradox is that no species survives its first encounter with advanced technology.

I suspect this novella reads very differently for readers who have read 2021’s Firebreak. Surely what happens in Firebreak must constrain the outcomes available to 06 and 22. But I haven’t yet read Firebreak, so I had few clues as to the ways in which 06 and 22’s story might play out.

A minor spoiler: one might expect that given the premise (children turned into weapons), child deaths would feature in this story. However, these fatalities occur in flashbacks. While the possibility of death, violent or otherwise, is on the table, children do not perish in the present of this narrative. This is only a very small spoiler, given 06 and 22 appear as fifteen-year-olds in another Firebreak story, Pathfinding!”, which strongly suggests that neither one dies at twelve.

In general, the novella eschews physical violence to focus on mental violence. Why break bones when one can break the targets’ spirits instead? Why dispatch units of heavily armed goons if the subjects can be convinced to turn on each other from the loftiest of motivations? The process is elegantly portrayed, but some readers may find it as disturbing as physical violence.

Flight & Anchor is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Apple Books), here (Barnes & Noble). and here (Chapters-Indigo).

1: According to a recent tor.com article, Nicole Kornher-Stace’s new novella Flight & Anchor describes itself, on the cover, as A Firebreak Story.” This is true; the story concerns two characters who appear in Kornher-Stace’s excellent 2021 novel Firebreak. But technically, it could also say An Archivist Wasp” story, as those same characters appear — in somewhat different form — in Archivist Wasp and its sequel, Latchkey.” See also the Kornher-Stace bibliography at bookseriesinorder.com.